Nails of ice by Fabian Acker
I am above the Arctic Circle where only reindeer, pine trees, and empty coca-cola cans mark the landscape. I'm worried about the pine trees. They're like car salesman, lean, mean and hungry. Their branches point almost vertically downwards, shoulders hunched. They are small, miserable and obviously undernourished. They need a bit of sizzling sun and a steaming hot plate of reindeer dung.
Well they're not going to get either. The reindeer are keeping all the dung to themselves, probably to provide the raw materials for the carvings the Laps make for the tourists. And as for the sun; well its summer time and although the sun is there 24/7, it's invisible. Needle-sharp rain pierces my body, nailing it to the ice.
Apart from the pine trees there are also Laplanders here who live in perfect harmony with nature; the reindeer, the pine trees, the coca-cola cans, etc. But like the sun they're invisible. Probably all down at Starbucks. The Laps that is.
No; not true. Here's one of them; youngish chap accompanied by a blonde-haired lady, both dressed in reindeer skins and beads. (Blonde hair? Lap? A Swedish friend tells me later: "either the colouring is artificial or she is.").
Oh God, he's going to sing me a yoik. I wipe the rain from off my face, in case they think I'm weeping at the prospect, and let a smile of happy expectation play about my lips. I know that in a few minutes the smile will freeze into position so I stop making the effort and just think of England.
No musical instrument to help him out, but then after a few seconds I realize there isn't one in the world that could. And of course he can keep his hands in his gloves if doesn't have to play anything.
Did I tell you about yoiks? They are songs specific to Laplanders. Sometimes they're tender declarations of love, sometimes they're roistering tales of debauchery, sometimes of noble sacrifice, and sometimes descriptions of train journeys. I think this one might be a love song. Or a train song. Can't detect any debauchery. No; I think it's a song of a reindeer mother separated from her calf who's got her foot trapped in a coca cola can. Never thought reindeers could scream like that.
I try to modify my smile so as to make it look sadly sympathetic to the reindeer, but appreciative of the singer. The whole scene is very sepia. Trees dark against a sullen white sky, a long line of shadowy snow-shoe prints leading to a teepee, which provides the only colour in the landscape. It's made from bright red and yellow heavy-duty plastic; easy to find in a snow storm. Inside I know there's a gas heater. I want to get in there and make love to it and ask it to bear my children.
I applaud the yoik with just enough enthusiasm to show how enjoyable it was, but without suggesting that I would like to hear another. This is the challenge; can I disguise my absolute hatred of yoiks, rain and ice just enough to avoid offending him and make it to the teepee before I die?
It's not certain. Can't unfreeze the smile. Feet have morphed into ice. Oh God! He's singing another. There is a little chunk of iced water in each ear now muffling the sound but I can definitely hear a reindeer screaming again.
Before he can start a third yoik, I tear one foot off the ground and make a heavy step towards the teepee. I consider engaging his woman friend in conversation to make sure he doesn't begin again. I think of trying "Do you come here often?", but it's a bit of a daft question with theNorth Pole just around the corner.
So I turn to the singer. Delicate dark straight hair, fine narrow lines around dark eyes; wind-tanned cheeks from trekking deep inside the Arctic to herd his reindeer. "I suppose you're outdoors in all weathers, summer and winter."
"Oh no", he continues in faultless English as we finally make it to the teepee. "I don't get outdoors as much as I'd like. My cousin does." He nods towards a young man sitting down on a tatty armchair. He's listening to an I-pod, feet resting on the stove, wearing jeans and a tee-shirt decorated with a pair of breasts. "He's the reindeer herder."
"Oh, I'm a pilot with SAS." Pause. "And so is Monika."
The girl smiles.